Peppers are the second most popular vegetable to grow in backyard gardens (yes, tomatoes are #1), and it’s no mystery why… They are prolific producers, come in all shapes, colors and sizes and range in taste from sweet to downright fiery. Peppers, including ornamental varieties, are members of the Solanaceae family (nightshades), which makes them related to potatoes, eggplant and tomato plants.
All pepper plants prefer plenty of sunshine and long seasons. Try raising several types (there are hundreds) at home to find just the right varieties for your taste and climate. And the peace of mind you’ll gain from growing peppers from seeds without chemicals? Priceless!
Hot, sweet, and flavorful, pepper health benefits include vitamins A and C (they contain more than 200% of your daily vitamin C intake), potassium and folic acid, especially important for pregnant women. They’re also low in calories and have super-sized portions of fiber and antioxidants, like lycopene which may prevent certain types of cancer, including prostate cancer in men.
Most pepper varieties are annuals, lasting only one season. They require full sun, fast-draining soil and regular water. Plants grow best when temperatures are warm and need substantial heat to set fruit. They tolerate drought, but do best in soil that is evenly moist but not soggy. Prior to planting, mix plenty of well rotted animal manure or organic compost into your pepper patch.
Crops are productive in moist — not wet — soils. Drip irrigation or soaker hoses can be used to direct water right to the plants’ roots. This will also keep the leaves dry, which helps prevent many disease problems.
How to Plant
Start pepper seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost or — depending on your climate zone — sow seeds directly in the garden after the soil has warmed. Nighttime temperatures must remain above 55˚F. In traditional rows, space plants 1-1/2 feet apart. Or plant in raised beds keeping them 1-1/2 feet apart in all directions. Provide support for taller varieties more than one foot tall.
Apply a good organic vegetable fertilizer once or twice after the plants become established, before blossoms set. Side-dressings of greensand can help offset potassium deficiency, and organic bone meal can supply needed phosphorus and calcium.
Harvesting and Storage
Harvest peppers early and often – the more you pick, the more they will produce. Most varieties can be eaten when they are green and under-ripe, although the flavor improves as they mature. Always cut (don’t pull) fruits from the plant. Allow 65 to 80 days from transplant to harvest.